10 Steps to Becoming an Ethical and Conscious Consumer

Choosing Human discusses 10 Easy Steps and Ways to become an Ethical Consumer or a Conscious Consumer

While standing in Forever21 have you ever wondered how a store could possibly sell clothing so cheap? How in the world do they make a profit on a $10 blouse after getting the materials, shipping the materials to a factory, having the item made, shipped to the US and then pay all the store associates who sold it to you. I wish the answer wasn’t bad business practice and overlooked human rights violations, but it is. With every dollar we spend we are actively casting votes about what we are willing and not willing to accept from companies and our markets.

I didn’t really begin thinking about what I was buying and the implications of my purchases until high school. Once I became involved in the pursuit of human rights and promoting ethical living, I went to a week long conference in NYC called Global Citizen Corps Leadership Summit. While at this summit I was fortunate enough to meet the founders of organizations like FEED and learned about the hidden horrors of these industries. These human rights violations are not just hidden in fashion but also in food, your morning coffee, your phone, Christmas decorations… basically anything and everything.

When I realized this I felt so incredibly guilty, sad and hopeless. I’m not writing this post to make you feel those things, I promise! I want to help you learn how to become an ethical and conscious consumer. It won’t happen over night, it’s something that you work towards and I’m not going to lie, I still struggle with being a conscious consumer at different points in the day. Little steps are still steps and every little bit helps. One of the many reasons why my blog is called Choosing Human is because every day I try to make choices that will do good for others, not just myself and not just for big corporations that don’t care for our sisters and brothers across the world.

I tried to include the most basic steps to help you become an ethical & conscious consumer; and hopefully start you on a journey to living a more ethical and justice driven life.

Choosing Human discusses 10 Easy Steps and Ways to become an Ethical Consumer or a Conscious Consumer

1. Research

Research will always be your friend and it’s so great that we’ve been blessed with google. You can easily learn the in’s and outs of just about any industry. Start looking into the sources of where your food and coffee may come from and then dig deeper into what the coffee industry may be doing behind the scenes. You’ll soon start learning that your sweet cup o’ joe isn’t too sweet for the farm workers who may be working in very inhuman conditions in order to cut costs. When you start uncovering things like sweatshops, underpaid workers, child labor among so many others, start researching the solutions. The biggest way we can help is by educating ourselves on not only the problems but the solutions. Microeconomic loan programs, fair trade sourced food, organic farming (keeps farm workers safe from dangerous chemicals), and products that give back are just some of the solutions. If you’re feeling like a real detective, try to track down some of your favorite stores’ stance on important issues. I worked at Victoria’s Secret for awhile and still love their products but I know that they are not ethically sourced and I know that in the past their organic cotton came from farms that use forced child labor, so now I’m actively trying to look for a brand to replace VS. I went so far as to look into their parent agency Limited Brands to find their statements on the issues that matter most to me. Take a look: http://www.lb.com/responsibility/our_responsibility.aspx

One big issue I see is that there is no way to really know where their products are being created other than countries and these guidelines they outlined aren’t very specific. This leaves so much room for inhumane working environments especially if it concerns factories outside of this country.

2. Look for the Labels.
If something is fair trade, organic, locally sourced, etc, it will almost ALWAYS say it on some kind of label or sticker. This is not always the case because it does cost money for certain certifications however it is slowly becoming more profitable to be ethical. This is one of my favorite snacks This Bar Saves Lives and as you can see it is clearly marked with labels stating that it is Non-GMO, the Vanilla Extract is fair trade and it’s gluten free. You will normally find these labels on the bottom corners of boxes and packaging or next the the nutrition facts. For clothing items check the paper tags and the tags on the inside of the clothing item.

Choosing Human discusses 10 Easy Steps and Ways to become an Ethical Consumer or a Conscious Consumer

3. Wants vs Needs
Part of being an ethical consumer is recognizing what our needs are and what our wants are. I’m not going to lie, I am someone who loves to buy things and loves to spend money, just ask Conor! I often have to stop myself and reevaluate whether or not I actually need that odd thing from Target or if I could do without it. About 90% of the time I just want things for the sake of having and after I go home empty handed, I’m really not missing whatever it was. On occasion if I go home and I still really want whatever it was I’ll try to find an ethical alternative. Say it’s a pair of shoes, am I able to find a similar pair that does more good? Most likely thanks to Toms, so I’ll go ahead and purchase from them instead.

4. Buy for quality
Following my last point. If I need to buy something new and something that is not ethically sourced then I will splurge and buy it to last. I don’t want to have to keep going back to a store to continue to buy the same item that keeps breaking and continue to push money into sweatshops. Think of things like your laptop or maybe even furniture(there’s always West Elm!!)

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5. Shop Local
When purchasing food try to look into local farms and always try to purchase seasonal food. Local farms and businesses struggle and need your support. Some farms are great and offer programs that you pay into. So you pay maybe $300 and you get a share of all the crops during the summer. You’ll be amazed with the amount of food you will get, the quality of it, the amount of money you save and you’ll be developing relationships with the people who supply your food. This also ends up being a great learning experience for children! Also, don’t overlook shopping at local bakery’s, cafes, tailors and other shops.

6. Recycle and Pay Attention to Packaging
It wasn’t until I was living on my own that I realized how much waste I actually created. Just think about what if you didn’t take out your trash, how quickly everything would pile up and now think about how much trash your neighbors may be creating. It’s horrible and we are running out of solutions for trash build up. An easy solution is to recycle whatever you can, compost what you can and avoid buying things with a ton of packaging. Remember those lunchables that you would beg your parents to buy as a kid. All the food was individually wrapped up, inside the plastic tray and then packaged inside a cardboard box. How unnecessary all that packaging was and so much trash was made from it! Now I think they’ve decreased the amount they package up the lunchables, but try to avoid things that come in wayyy too much packaging. I need less waste not more.

Choosing Human discusses 10 Easy Steps and Ways to become an Ethical Consumer or a Conscious Consumer

7. What is it Made of?
Say you cannot find something that is fairly traded, try to look for materials that are organically made. If cotton is organically grown then the farm hands will not be exposed to all the dangerous chemicals. Maybe the farm still doesn’t treat their workers the best but at least you know that they aren’t being exposed to unnecessary contaminants. Also look for materials that aren’t made of animal products, especially things like jade. I’m a huge animal advocate and I hate the idea of wearing another creatures fur or harming them to make jewelry.

8. Does it give back
A lot of products are now One for One, many people have different views on the sustainability of these programs and organizations but I love them, especially when they begin to move towards full sustainability. Some of my favorite brands that give back are Toms, Warby Parker, FEED, FashionABLE, Sseko and so many more. A lot of these organizations and brands either donate money towards something, have microeconomic loan programs, skill building programs for survivors and so many more. So many of these orgs have become so creative in problem solving and so successful. If you check out my Global Citizen List, you’ll see a compiled list of organizations that give back.

Choosing Human discusses 10 Easy Steps and Ways to become an Ethical Consumer or a Conscious Consumer

9. Hold companies accountable
This is so important. Every time you purchase something, you are casting your vote in what you want to see in the market. Hold your favorite companies accountable for where they get their raw materials. Call them to do your research and if you don’t like what you see or discovered, let them know. Write to them, call them and get together a petition. It may seem daunting but I promise it isn’t. There are also many organizations that lobby our government to encourage change through laws, so attend a lobby meeting or contact your local reps.

10. Take it Day by Day
Part of being an ethical and conscious consumer is about taking it day by day. It’s daunting and it’s a big burden to carry, especially when you buy that designer purse but don’t let it break you down. Every effort counts, big or small. Just take each day and try to strive for your best.

So tell me, what key things do you do to strive to be an ethical or conscious consumer? Let me know what your favorite ethical brands and organizations are!

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12 thoughts on “10 Steps to Becoming an Ethical and Conscious Consumer

  1. This is a great list. I’ve been wrestling with fast fashion. On the one hand I want to keep within a certain price range for budget reasons but on the other reasons I don’t want to compromise moral standards. You are right though, it’s one day at a time and one purchase at a time!

    • Thank you! It is hard and that’s why it’s always step by step. Is my closet filled with fair trade dresses, shirts and pants? No, because I can’t afford it but everything else like jewelry, scarves and other smaller goods are almost entirely replaced with some kind of fair trade or thrifted item. It’s not easy but as we try harder it’ll get easier. xox

  2. Glad to discover your blog! I was in Cambodia recently and I learned about the wage situation of the workers there. I saw A LOT of textile factories (and factories in general) and it’s still taking a while for workers to get the wage they deserve. I’m all for shopping local, especially here in the Philippines we have awesome raw materials! Though I admit I don’t do this all the time. It is a process 🙂

    • I’m so happy you found my blog! Thank you for stopping by. Wow I would love to visit Cambodia and the Philippines, it’s hard to see it happening first hand. I don’t do it 100% of the time either, like you said it is a process xox

    • I’m so happy that you’re beginning your journey into a ethical and justice driven life! That’s how I viewed things as well for a long time because that’s all I was taught by my parents and what I was taught in school. When we discuss budgeting and finances we don’t include a discussion about the supply chain and how our purchases impact others so now we have to begin changing how we live and begin teaching our friends and children what we know now. I’m so excited for you, if you have any questions please let me know! xox

  3. Excellent post. I needed to read this as I, like so many American consumers, often choose to be willfully ignorant of the implications of my purchases. While I love and would like to support mindful, ethically sourced and fair trade companies, I often find I can’t afford them. Do you have additional suggestions for clothing brands that are ethical and affordable for someone on a moderate income? I really like Sseko, but I can’t afford a $240 leather tote. 😦 Oh, and I plan to look into local farms I can buy into because of this post!

    • Thank you! I love how you put that, willfully ignorant. It’s so true because we have so much information available to us but because we are comfortable in our life we choose to ignore the truth. I am such a culprit of this but I’m actively trying to fix it. It is tough and outside of a tight budget some days. When I began slowly swapping stuff out when I was on a super college student budget (some days I still feel like I am) I started with FEED projects for my purses. They range in prices so you can easily get a beautiful bag for $100 or less(there’s a few that are $25 and around $50 too!) The leather ones a very pricey but their normal totes and bags are just as durable and beautiful, plus meals go to people in need (in the US and around the world). Heres a few links for you, some may be in the UK and these are the sites where I find great sales http://www.fashion-conscience.com http://www.braintreeclothing.com http://www.bibico.co.uk http://www.asos.com/The-Green-Room http://www.ethicalsuperstore.com If those turn out to be too expensive then concentrate on your coffee/tea or accessories, make little changes instead of big ones. its a process and it starts out small. xox

      • Wonderful! I had no idea Asos had an ethical, enviro-friendly line, so that’s great to know. I will keep all of these suggestions in mind. Take it slow is great advice, as this is a transition that will take time. Thanks to your post, I feel empowered to make that change! Side note: did you see Sseko on Shark Tank?! I recognized the brand because of this post. 😉

      • You wouldn’t believe how much is actually out there until you start searching for it. Instagram has actually been a great source for upcoming brands. I’m so happy that youre so excited to start this journey! If you have questions you know I’m here. =] I actually don’t have cable or direct tv or anything so I didn’t but that is so awesome that they were on there and even cooler that you recognized them! I hope they made a deal 😉

  4. Such a great and informative post! I’m slowly making changes in my buying habits. I haven’t stepped foot in a F21 in yearsss (though I’m almost 30 so I know that also has something to do with it lol) and I’m buying more conscious about my choices. I actually just got involved with the Root Collective…great company!

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